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Here's the craziest thing about the Trump White House's quid pro quo with Ukraine

Posted October 17, 2019 3:10 p.m. EDT

— Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged in a news conference Thursday that the US withheld military aid from Ukraine in hopes of securing a promise that the foreign government would look into the possible presence of the physical Democratic National Committee server hacked by the Russians in 2016.

As Mulvaney recounted Trump telling of Ukraine: "This is a corrupt place. Everyone knows this is a corrupt place...Plus, I'm not sure that the other European countries are helping them out either. Did he also mention me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that."

Mulvaney's willing acknowledgment of that quid pro quo -- "we do that all the time with foreign policy" -- is a big deal. (Although, in truth, anyone who read the rough transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky understood the quid pro quo was implicit. And even kind of explicit.)

But what I find truly remarkable is the reason that the White House set up this quid pro quo was to force Ukraine's hand on what is, without ANY question, a complete and total conspiracy theory.

Start here. In that July call between Trump and Zelensky, the President tells his Ukrainian colleague this:

"I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people ... The server, they say Ukraine has it."

What is Trump talking about? Simply put: How US law enforcement handled the hacked Democratic National Committee server.

A company called Crowdstrike, which runs cybersecurity investigations for the US government, was called in by the DNC to handle the server after the hack was detected. Eventually, the FBI looked at the "imaged" copies of the DNC server -- essentially an electronic copy of everything that was on the server -- as the feds conducted their own investigation.

The fact that the FBI didn't look at the physical server -- although it was no different than the imaged copy created by Crowdstrike -- has led some conspiracy theorists to suggest the "real" server has been secreted away somewhere. Like Ukraine! Why Ukraine? Because there is a rumor -- a wrong one -- circulating around the Internet that the founder of Crowdstrike is Ukrainian. He is not; he is a Russian-born American citizen.

(For much more on Crowdstrike, read this.)

So what Trump pushed to Zelensky -- and what Mulvaney admitted Thursday was part of a quid pro quo -- was (and is) a double debunked conspiracy theory based on the President's personal belief that something weird happened with the DNC's physical server, which was never turned over to the FBI.

This isn't a partisan view. Here's what Tom Bossert, Trump's first director of homeland security, said recently about the Ukraine/Crowdstrike/DNC server idea: "It's not only a conspiracy theory, it is completely debunked."

And yet, that -- THAT -- is the thing the White House wanted Ukraine to look into. To try to find physical server that has zero proven connection to Ukraine. Which is, in a word, nuts.

But it is also confirmation that Trump -- and his senior staff -- are entirely comfortable using the full power of the United States to lean on a foreign power to pursue the President's whims. Which is a remarkable thing. Especially because that whim is wholly based on a conspiracy theory for which there is zero evidence or proof.

So, yeah. Crazy.

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